You’ve heard about the important health benefits of nose-breathing over mouth-breathing and you’re doing it. Or at least you think you’re doing it.
I was a mouth breather for four decades until I took my first Buteyko Breathing class a couple years ago. I have earnestly been practicing nose-breathing ever since but I can easily slip into mouth-breathing when I do certain activities if I’m not paying attention. Here are the times when I’m most likely to lose my way. Maybe this applies to you too.
- Talking. I speak fast when I’m excited. It’s a lot of fun, but where’s the pause to breathe? Ideally we should be breathing in through our nose and talking on the out-breath. Opera singers, for whom breath-control is essential, learn this technique. Before I studied Buteyko Breathing, I noticed I was getting really uncomfortable and short of breath when I read a long story to my daughter. “I’m in worse shape than I thought”, I chided myself. I didn’t realize I could or should stop to take a breath. “That’s what commas and periods are for,” my master teacher has said more than once.
- Laughing, Many asthmatics are one good laugh away from a wheeze or an attack. That’s because we expel a lot of air when we laugh and then “suck air” to get a breath inbetween guffaws. Laughing is one of the great joys of life and no one should tell you to stop. Try to experiment with breathing in through your nose between laughs or if you’ve already learned Buteyko, do some mini pauses afterward. (Same advice for heavy breathing during sex. Enjoy yourself and then do some breathing exercises to recover afterward!)
- Eating and Drinking. Nasal breathing during these activities takes real practice. It’s like patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time, but it can be done. And it becomes relaxing and slows you down, which is healthy.
- Brushing Your Teeth and Visiting the Dentist Last time I got my teeth cleaned and my mouth was wide open, I might say even uncomfortably so, I noticed at one point I’d been mouth breathing for a while. Then I transitioned to nose breathing. It felt great but I had to consciously think about it.
- Exercising. Most people think it’s perfectly OK to breathe through their mouths when they’re exerting themselves and need more air. Buteyko instructors and physical trainers advise you to slow down to the pace that you can continue nose-breathing. After a while you will attain and then exceed your original pace.
- Initiating Movement or Quickening Your Pace. I’ve noticed when I need more energy quickly – maybe I’ve picked up a heavy grocery bag to carry in from the car or I’m walking my daughter to school and I speed up because we’re late – I’ll often mindlessly fuel the action by opening my mouth. This seems to also happen when I’m working or cooking and walk into another room to grab something and come back. I return breathless. I am still trying to understand this because it’s not as if I can’t move that quickly. I think perhaps mind and body are not in sync at those times,. Maybe there’s an automatic impulse to move faster that takes the body by surprise? I welcome comments if anyone else has experienced this.
- Sleeping. Nighttime breathing mimics daytime breathing. So if your mouth is frequently open during the day, it will open at night too.
- Lead-Up to Coughing/Sneezing/Yawning. An automatic big breath arises unless you stop it at the get-go. Over time I’ve started to do it with my nose and keep my mouth shut — definitely a learned skill.
- Having a Stuffed Nose. If your nose is stuffed, try the Buteyko nose-clearing exercise. The more you breathe through your nose, the less it will clog up, I’ve found.
- Showering. Check out if you open your mouth in the shower. Some people do, possibly to avoid water going up their nose, others don’t.
We can be nose-breathing most of the time and practicing breathing-retraining exercises faithfully, but if we slip into mouth-breathing every time we open our mouth, our breathing pattern will not improve very much.